It’s March 7th, 2020 and Mikael Mandron has just netted a 96th-minute equaliser at the Stadium of Light. Very League One. Very Sunderland.
I suspect none of us leaving the ground in silent misery that day predicted the length of time it would take for us all to get back there. The euphoria of witnessing a Sunderland win again, on home turf and in person, was some 17 months in the making.
Saturday’s victory against Wigan was a vital shot of euphoria for supporters. The sort we’d been starved of for too long. I could cover at length the positives of the day but more than anything it just felt bloody good to be back.
The narrative that occupied much of supporters’ time during the build up to the game felt, well, less buoyant. Centring on the club’s transfer activity (or lack thereof) the pros and cons of the recruitment team’s activities were – should we say ‘explored’?
I think we can all agree, something so essential to the lifeblood of a football team as potential new players is going to generate debate among the fan base. It goes together like red and white.
Too few signings? You’re judged as being ‘too negative’. No issues with the level of player recruitment? Well then you’re ‘overly positive.’ The absence of nuance means you’re one camp or the other. Perhaps a reflection on how social media frames debate. All the while missing the appreciation that you can both support the team and be critical at the same time.
For the record and full disclosure, I had concerns leading up to the Wigan game. My view then, given the transfer deadline date, was that the club were gambling with all the August fixtures. We’re only an injury away from a crisis in a lot of positions and any such worries aren’t going to vanish after one game.
After all, those often mentioned ‘gaps in the squad’ haven’t miraculously been filled with three points.
But, importantly, that performance seemed much more than ‘papering over cracks’. It showed a cohesiveness that comes from understanding what is being asked of each player and from having been well drilled in that task, even with two central midfielders playing in full-back roles.
It was certainly a marker in the sand showing what is possible from this group of players. If anything it should only improve once the ‘quality signings’ we’re told the club are waiting for finally arrive.
Perhaps ironically, if the club are taking a gamble with a methodical recruitment process, it has allowed Lee Johnson more time working with those players left behind, including the Academy prospects. It’s time spent formulating a game plan from the very start of pre-season ready for that handful of early matches, with a core group.
Certainly on the evidence of Saturday’s match it was Sunderland that looked the clearer of purpose. The Latics were making half a dozen or so debuts and after McGeady’s penalty they lacked ideas and didn’t gel as well as they might have done with more preparation together.
Look, if supporting Sunderland teaches you anything it’s to not get carried away. The concerns highlighted before Wigan aren’t yet resolved. It would be remiss to suggest they have.
But, if performances between now and the end of the transfer window are maintained at the level witnessed at the weekend, and incoming players are of sufficient quality then it’s possible the club could make a success of this season.
Early days indeed but based on what we’ve all endured over the past few seasons even a drowning man will clutch at a straw.